Field hospital at Austin Convention Center to open next week, APH officials say


AUSTIN (KXAN) — A temporary field hospital located at the Austin Convention Center will open next week, Austin Public Health officials said in a briefing Wednesday morning.

The “alternate care site,” which will begin operations on July 21, will help ease the burden on local hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic, officials said.

Dr. Jason Pickett, the Austin-Travis County alternate health authority, said he hopes “we don’t have to take a single patient in it.”

“But we have to be ready for it, and we will be ready,” he added.

The sharp increase in COVID-19-related hospitalizations in Texas has left hospitals “stretched,” Pickett said, adding that the City is working with hospitals to ensure the site at the Convention Center does not take resources away from them.

Pickett said Austin-Travis County is requesting additional resources from the state, and from other states, to help with limited staffing resources. A spokesperson said Austin-Travis County will contract with staffing agencies to secure critical personnel.

He also shared more plans about how the field hospital will operate, saying that officials do not plan to run an ICU there as patients in need of intensive care “are better served at a hospital.”

“I don’t know if we are going to take patients from hospitals on day one, but I know we will be ready to do so,” he said.

KXAN previously reported that the site could provide care for up to 1,500 people. Capacity at the field hospital will be increased in 100-bed increments, as needed.

Officials also gave more information about local schools moving to virtual learning for the opening period of the fall semester.

Tuesday in Travis County Commissioners Court, Dr. Escott said area school districts should suspend in-person instruction until September 8 at the earliest, and take a “default position of virtual instruction” for the entire fall semester.

Pickett said the delay in bringing students back gives schools more time to prepare and put plans in place – for example, spreading desks in classrooms and ensuring hallways will not be crowded.

He added that Austin Public Health has regularly met with superintendents throughout the pandemic to develop plans for the fall.

APH has also released a map Tuesday that shows where APH-operated and private COVID-19 testing sites are located in Williamson, Travis and Hays counties.

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